Happy Tuesday Kindle-ites! I know that I promised you a review today, but I just couldn’t wait to post this. I got to have a little chat with Sarwat Chadda (The author of “Devil’s Kiss”) and WOW, what an amazing person. If you haven’t had the chance to read DK don’t let that stop you from getting a little peek behind the curtain. Also!!! (and this is the little surprise I teased you with.) Sarwat has graciously offered up the MP3 (CD) version of “Devil’s Kiss” to one of you lucky readers. Here is how to enter. Shoot me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) title it DK Audio and put “please please please” in the message. I will pull 1 lucky winner’s name out of the hat the last day of April and then POOF!!!! it will be on it’s way. Until then. Hope you enjoy the interview.
KO: Before we dive right in to the nitty gritty, I wanted to know just a little about Sarwat Chadda the everyday person, so without further ado…When did you first decide that writing was what you wanted to do? Was there any particular thing or person that triggered your creative gene?
SC: I was mad about role playing games from way back in the early 1980’s. That and Conan and Elric and all the sword and sorcery stuff, so I first started out by writing my own role playing adventures. It turned out to be great discipline. Every week, without fail, I needed a new story to play with my friends. Eventually this grew into more elaborate, including world-building and lots of research, which was fun in itself.
Basically I took up writing because I’m a geek.
In the early 2000’s, with the Harry Potter thing all booming (and me stubbornly resisting) a friend of mine forced me to read a children’s book, Northern Lights by Phillip Pullman. It was awesome and I thought ‘wow, if this is what’s being written for kids I need to be a part of it.’
The role playing had all died down but the urge to tell stories remained. My wife and I sat down and discussed it and agreed to go for it. Write. Take courses. Learn and give it a serious shot. Not as a hobby but as a new career as a writer.
KO: Who are (at the moment) your favorite three authors and why?
SC: Bernard Cornwell- He’s written the Sharpe books which have been the best training an adventure writer could have. Sharpe’s a low born London scum, but rises in the army during the Napoleonic wars, fighting not just the French but the class system that dominated the officer ranks. What I learned was that while the fight scenes are awesome, its how the anticipation of the action is almost more important.
Phillip Pullman- Reading him made me aware how far you could go with children’s books and the heavyweight topics you could address, provided they were told well. He’s the biggest reason I became a writer.
Philip Reeve- He’s written the Mortal Engines series and has a knack of writing characters you utterly love, despite their faults and petty natures. The series builds a beautifully elaborate world full of amazing adventure and perfectly crafted, flawed, heroes. I want to be him when I grow up. I’m falling into the habit of reading as a writer, which can be a bit annoying since you’re looking at the mechanics of the story rather than the magic of the story. Not with this guy. I get totally transported.
KO: If you had to choose only 1 book to read for the remainder of your life…what would it be and why?
SC: Wow, big question. Count of Monte Cristo. It’s wide ranging, not limited to the narrow focus of one character alone and weaves so many disparate things together without letting forget what the story’s about, one man’s revenge. One of the issues I have is the idea we’re told to focus on the plot alone, never meander and dawdle on side issues. That’s a big shame as one of the best things about a book is there is no restriction on size. Read at your own pace, it’s not a race.
KO: Ok… on to the more serious stuff…What was it about the Templars that fascinated you enough to write a series about them?
SC: I wanted to write something that had ancient roots, because I love history. I read it for fun and coming from a Muslim background but living in the West the Crusades have always fascinated me. The Templars were a critical part of that history. Then because I wanted to weave in occult legends in my tales, rather than make them straight historical fiction, again the Templars came up trumps with all the legends and conspiracies surrounding them. I did the first draft or two before the Da Vinci Code meant you have Templar stories everywhere. Thankfully that had sort of come and gone by the time my book came out.
So, you’ve got kick-ass warriors, occult conspiracy, and their headquarters in London, still. Perfect ingredients for urban fantasy series, don’t you think?
KO: The majority of YA authors these days are female, especially when it comes to writing a strong female lead, that being said…what was it exactly that influenced you to write a series where a teenage girl is the heroine?
SC: Easy, it was having daughters. From that it was trying to find something new to write about the female action hero that wasn’t Buffy. It was working through the typical clichés of children’s fiction and turning them upside down. The first, and biggest, was the parent issue. Most child heroes are orphans, or what they do is behind their parents’ back. I wanted Billi’s parent to be directly involved in her adventures. The relationship between her and her father opened up so many avenues. The other cliché is the son following in the father’s footsteps. Much better if we’ve a daughter, brings up so much more conflict. A girl in a very macho warrior culture was something that hadn’t been particularly done (as far as I know) and that opened up plot ideas that I will be exploring for some time to come.
There’s a great sense of freedom being one of the few blokes in such a female dominated genre. Billi’s formed from the classic melancholic heroes of literature, rather than the romantic ones. I think, reading the bios of a few of the female writers who’s favourite books follow a more Jane Austen path, my influences come from a very different source. Billi’s DNA comes from Achilles, Beowulf, Boudicca and the Rhani of Jhansi. Brooding warriors who always questioned their purpose, their true morality. Writing during the recent wars we’ve been involved in gives Billi a particular slant. How do you know you’re ‘right’? It’s sort of put me at odds with the paranormal romance thing, since there’s an expectation that I’m in that genre since I have a female lead. Ther’s plenty of great paranormal romance out there already and certainly doesn’t need me adding to it. I’m here to offer the reader something different.
KO: Have your 2 girls read “Devil’s Kiss” and if so, what did they think about it?
SC: My two girls are still in primary school, so it’ll be a while yet before they read it. But both are action tomboys, so they’ve had an influence on the character, and look, of Billi since they are both half-English and half-Pakistani, like her.
KO: I love the fact that your character Billi has inner demons she struggles with on a daily basis… what is it about her that you like the most?
SC: I love angst! Its Billi struggle to choose her future that I admire. Even at 15, she’s her own woman. I like the fact she stands her ground for those she loves, but it’s a love that has to be earnt. When she is turned by a pretty face and charm, it goes badly wrong.
She struggles, nothing comes easy. She gains her abilities the hard way, through bruises and relentless, hard work. Nothing she has is taken for granted and she never gives up, no matter what is taken from her and what the odds, and she loses a lot. She makes those difficult choices and is willing to pay the price, physically and (more importantly) emotionally. Those are the sort of heroes I admire and that’s the sort of hero I wanted to write.
KO: I read recently, (on your blog,) that you got to visit India for research and it instantly made me think of “Devil’s Kiss.” With a book so chocked full of fun facts, how long was your research process, and did you do any traveling to get the info you needed?
SC: I spent about six months reading lots of Templar books so I got to the point where I could recall the main historical details without needing to look for it anymore, a sort of saturation point. That’s when I started writing the story in earnest. Nevertheless from that point it still took another four years before it appeared in print.
When it came to Devil’s Kiss, I was always going to set it in my home city, London. The Temple Church is here, the Order’s headquarters and it was just around the corner from where I worked so I’d spend lunchtimes wondering about writing down details of its layout and descriptions. The opening chapter is in south London, where I live. Most of the locations are taken from real places.
Dark Goddess, the sequel, is set in Russia. I had to go there to ensure the level of detail in the second book was a high and as accurate as Devil’s Kiss. I couldn’t get away with just cribbing out of guide books because the reader would be able to tell. Not that going to these brilliant places was any hardship!
What’s great is by visiting Russia and India you raise the story a whole new level. Descriptions have a freshness and the scenes a life that they’d lack if all I did was just do my research over the internet. I’m sure other writers can do it without site visits, but that’s what works for me.
KO: Are you 100% happy with the way “Devil’s Kiss” came out, or would you go back and change a few details here and there if you could?
SC: You could tweak endlessly but I’m pretty happy with the core, for a first effort! Reading bits now you realise how much more you could have cut out, and my book’s not that long already. The intention was to write something you HAD to finish RIGHT NOW, so it had to be intense, page-turning and heart pumping. A lot of that comes from tight editing and that’s a skill quite different for writing. My editors were awesomely helpful in making Devil’s Kiss so much better that if it had been just down to me.
KO: What was the most challenging part about writing “Devil’s Kiss”?
SC: The scene between Mike and Billi in the cafe was the hardest thing to write. I’m not a romance writer so it was a struggle to find the right balance between anticipation and the event itself. What’s great is less is more. It’s all about the touching, but it was hard work. Compared to that the battle scenes and the horror scenes were a doddle.
KO: One of the very first things that drew me to “Devil’s Kiss” was the cover art, (US version) it was basically screaming at me from the Target shelf “Buy Me!! You know you want to…look… I have a sword!) Were you an intrical part of the designing process for DK or did you leave it in your publishers hands?
SC: I had absolutely no say on the cover at all. Probably for the best since what do I know about cover design? It’s not like the cover artist was advising me on my writing. That said I did have a phone call with my editor about the sequel since they wanted to shoot the cover for that the same time as Devil’s Kiss, and well before I’d written a word! All I said was ‘she’s got a red coat, its set in Russia, lots of snow and werewolves’. That’s as much of it as I’d thought through. From that the publisher produced a cover well beyond my wildest expectations. I think the two covers are far, far better from anything I could have suggested.
KO: I know that I am super excited to read “The Dark Goddess” as well as several of my followers. Can you give us a little snip-it of what to expect, for example… are we going to be properly introduced to Jack?
SC: Dark Goddess is set in Russia and I’ve taken certain characters for Russian mythology and given them a modern twist.
Baba Yaga is a fairy tale cannibal witch, but also an incarnation of the Great Goddess, the deity worshipped by Early Man. While Devil’s Kiss was Billi in an all male environment, Dark Goddess is her in an equally powerful female setting.
The premise is what if Nature could fight back? Given the state the planet’s in, what if some agent representing the non-human world stood up and said “Enough!”
Baba Yaga can control the elements, affect the weather and cause huge natural disasters. But she’s old and weak. Dark Goddess is about her plans to regain her powers and use them to cull back humanity. If we were infested by some vermin contaminating our home, that’s what we’d do, isn’t it? Now the tables are turned. If Devil’s Kiss was about Billi saving the firstborn, then Dark Goddess is about her saving humanity itself. But Baba Yaga asks is this: Is humanity worth saving? No other species has prospered under mankind’s rule, so is it time to redress the balance?
Ancient legends refer to the Amazons having come from the areas around the Black Sea, around southern Russia. I wanted these Amazons to be the female counterpart to the Templars. They offer Billi a path very different from what her father has shown her. Because I’m a big fan of Angela Carter and her female werewolf stories, it was a fairly easy step to make these Amazons a pack of deadly werewolves.
The book’s out July 1st in the UK and I’m madly excited about it. It’s significantly larger than Devil’s Kiss because there was a whole new setting that needed to be established. Russia’s a very different place to London, and the rules are very different too. Billi’s way out of her comfort zone and she’s going to be in for a shock.
Ah, Jack the Ripper is another thing entirely. Let’s just say he won’t be in Book 2 but he will be back…
KO: Well… I am a huge fan and getting to have a little chat with you was a honor and a privilege, is there anything else you would like to add?
SC: Thanks very much for inviting me for the chat! Anything to add? I think I’ve taken up enough of your time already, don’t you agree?